GOLCAR dad Steven Cooper drove up to Scotland after celebrating his 47th birthday – and then vanished into thin air.
Since the former Territorial Army soldier left his family home in Scar Lane on January 21 there have been no confirmed sightings of him at all.
And the leader of a mountain rescue team that searched for him for several weeks has revealed it is the first time in his 30-year search and rescue career he has failed to find a missing person in his area.
The leader of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team, Willie Anderson, said: “We usually find the person we are looking for even if it takes months – but we have found absolutely no trace of Steven. It’s very unusual and a real mystery.’’
Calls to the national Missing People charity have claimed to have seen Steven in places as diverse as France, Spain and Dewsbury – but every lead has ended in total frustration for his desperately worried family.
One woman was convinced she had seen him in a supermarket at Fort William and the CCTV images of the man were retrieved and sent down to West Yorkshire.
But one look at them by his family quickly confirmed it was not Steven.
There have also been crank calls that led to more misery.
But the bottom line is that after Steven parked his Ford Focus car on the A86 near the Inverness village of Moy not far from Fort William he vanished without any trace at all.
Receipts in the car indicate that he had taken a strange route there up the A1 and then criss-crossed Scotland. The journey was around 300 miles.
But there is nothing at all to indicate why Steven should have left home and driven so far – or any clues to his state of mind.
He left everything behind – his mobile phone, passport, wallet, credit cards and cash. There was even half a tank of petrol still in the car when he abandoned it.
It was found close to Loch Laggan, 20 miles north-east of Fort William.
Sonar searches of the deep water and a huge land search of the area followed – including mountain rescue teams and an RAF helicopter – but failed to find any trace of him.
But it is desolate and lonely there.
Steven’s mum, Margaret, said: “You drive for miles and miles through the countryside, only seeing the odd white cottage here and there. It’s hard to grasp just how big the countryside is up there.”
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Steven was in the Territorial Army in the mid 1980s and a former colleague, Kenneth Holroyd, scaled several Scottish peaks in May in a bid to find him, but again found no trace.
It’s a tough place to search.
Kenneth, 49, revealed that undergrowth in the woodland close to where Steven’s car was found is so dense it would take hours to go just a quarter of a mile, so it had to be scoured by search and rescue dogs.
Steven’s sister, Trish Cooper, has spearheaded a major effort to find Steven.
She has now organised for missing leaflets featuring Steven’s photograph and details to be circulated among Scotrail passengers in the Fort William area.
“I can’t believe six months have gone by already,’’ she said. “We’ve got to keep trying to find Steven. We have to do something. If we give out 1,000 leaflets and get just one sighting, then that would be a result.’’
She added: “We have no idea why Steven left home. He had been looking forward to his birthday that weekend and really enjoyed it.”
Margaret added: “We can’t think of any reason why Steven should go like he did, but maybe someone else may know differently. If you have any information at all, now is the time to talk.
“It’s as if he got in his car and went for a drive somewhere for whatever reason and just didn’t come back.”
Steven’s case was screened on the programme on BBC1 in April and posters have been put up in Scotland in the area where he went missing. His face has also been shown on plasma screens on buses in Glasgow.
Steven suffers from a rare condition, Marfan Syndrome, which meant he could not work.
Marfan Syndrome is a genetic disorder of the connective tissue which can involve many areas of the body.
The most serious problem is weakness of the aorta, the body’s largest artery, which affects most sufferers.
It left Steven with some difficulty walking and he sometimes walked with a stick.
Steven has two brothers, Christian and Mark, and his parents are Margaret and Donald Cooper. He has a 15-year-old stepson, Ian.
Steven lives with partner Claire Lodge and also has an 18-year-old stepdaughter, Zoe, and a 19-year-old son, Nathan, who does not live with the family.
Steven is 6ft 2in tall, slim, with blue/green eyes and short, thinning blond hair.
Anyone with any information should call freephone 0800 700740.
Proceeds from a charity walk at a Wooldale pub are destined to go to three charities which have helped in the search for Steven.
The annual walk from The Sycamore in Wooldale traditionally raises money for Holme Valley Mountain Rescue Team and will do the same this year with the other half of the proceeds split with the charity Missing People, Cairngorm Mountain Rescue and the Search And Rescue Dog Association.
There will be two walks on Saturday, September 6 – one an eight mile easy route and the other a 15-mile hard route. Entry costs £10 per person and all entries must be made to the pub by August 31. Pop into the pop or phone 683458.
In June Steven’s family raised £2,500 for the charities at an auction and disco at New Mill Club.